Home' Teacher : July 2010 Contents CURRICULUM & ASSESSMENT 27
The idea of 'authentic learning' has become cen-
tral to our ideas about educating young people,
but there's 'authentic learning,' where the real-life
meaning and context of knowledge is embedded
in educational tasks, and then there's authentic
learning -- real learning in the real world. For a
new generation of digital natives, of course, that
real world includes the virtual worlds they inhabit.
It's not just older kids who inhabit those vir-
tual worlds. My five-year-old twins and I have
become obsessed with an iPhone game called Tap
Fish. There are a huge number of these simple
virtual-world games in which you take the role of
a farmer, business owner or pet owner. The orig-
inal versions of these virtual-world games, like
the 1990s craze for Tamagotchi and the phenom-
enally successful computer game The Sims, have
been taken to a new level through integration with
social networking applications like Facebook.
One of the most widely played of these socially
networked virtual worlds games is the Facebook
application Farmville, which allows to you cre-
ate your own farm community complete with
animals, crops, buildings, decorations and more.
Farmers get points and virtual money for
doing the right thing like tending their crops
and animals. If they stay away too long from
the game, on the other hand, their crops will die
in the ground. Significantly because the games
are part of the Facebook social network there's
also an opportunity for players to communicate,
invite new players and visit 'neighbouring' farms.
In Tap Fish, you are the owner of a fish tank.
You can use virtual money, or fishbucks, to buy
fish eggs of different types to hatch in your tank.
Your hatchlings happily swim around, slowly
growing to mature size, after which you can sell
them for more virtual money in order to buy
You need to return regularly to the game to
clean your tank and feed your fish or else your fish
will die. If your fish do die you have a very short
time to get back to your tank and 'revive' them. As
you play the game and earn points, you're able to
buy more and more exotic fish and sea creatures,
including sea turtles, killer whales and sea horses.
Genuine digital natives, my twins have picked
up all the functionality of the game in a few short
turns, buying and selling fish, cleaning and deco-
rating the tank, and so on. One of their favourite
activities is going to visit 'neighbouring' tanks.
As a visitor, mostly you're just able to watch
the fish, but you're also allowed to clean the tank
and feed any hungry fish.
This has become our favourite part of the
game. Sometimes we find a tank with a beau-
tiful arrangement of rocks, corals and grasses.
Sometimes we find interesting and exotic collec-
tions of fish. Other times we find neighbours who
have bought 10 extra tanks for their world, each
with dozens and dozens of fish -- but every tank
is covered in green slime and the fish are starving.
Once we found a tank with the most amaz-
ing collection of fish -- sea horses, killer whales,
sharks, sea turtles -- but all of them were dead,
floating on the surface. It was a shocking sight
I've had the most amazing conversations with
my kids over the last couple of weeks of our
obsession. We've done a lot of maths.
'How many fishbucks do you have?'
'How much is the sea turtle egg?'
'Is this number bigger than this one?'
We've planned and waited until we could
afford to buy an expensive fish egg. We've taken
turns and talked a lot about values and social
'I don't think anyone should have 10 tanks to
themselves. People should just have one or two.'
'I wish I had a killer whale. If I had one I'd
look after it and never let it die.'
'I wish we could revive other people's dead fish
and bring them back to our tank to look after.'
As a non-believer, my wife is skeptical of the
whole thing. She points out that none of this is
real, that it's just a computer game. I suspect she's
DO YOU THINK GAME-THUMBING YOUNG PEOPLE ARE STUPID, ANTISOCIAL
ZOMBIES, WHILE SKATERS ARE JUST, WELL, STUPID, ANTISOCIAL TEENAGERS
ON SKATEBOARDS? IT MIGHT BE TIME TO THINK AGAIN, SAYS RALPH SAUBERN,
SINCE THEY'RE ACTUALLY ENGAGED IN AUTHENTIC LEARNING.
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